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NASCAR mailbag: Why a midsize team should sign Matt Kenseth

Questions on whether Richard Petty Motorsports or Front Row Motorsports should sign Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch being on the playoff bubble, and the distance of the first-ever playoff road course race at Charlotte.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 400 - Practice Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Each week SB Nation's NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a future mailbag question, email

I don’t get why a team like Richard Petty Motorsports or Front Row Motorsports would go out and sign a driver like Matt Kenseth to help itself? Yeah, I know it would be expensive but it seems that Matt would more than be worth the additional cost and maybe even help these teams grow into something bigger.


Just for what he can do on the track alone, a middle-class team signing Kenseth would be a boon. Despite being the oldest full-time driver, the 45-year-old remains competitive. That he doesn’t tear up an inordinate amount of equipment — often one of the biggest expenditures hampering a financially strapped team — cannot be overstated.

But the intangibles Kenseth provides beyond on the track are also significant. There are many within Joe Gibbs Racing who credit Kenseth’s ability, knowledge and leadership in helping JGR arguably surpass Hendrick Motorsports as NASCAR’s pre-eminent organization. One popular story many within JGR have shared is how Kenseth, after beginning with the team in 2013, didn’t hesitate to call out a teammate who had showed up late to one of his first weekly competition meetings. It set a tone for what was expected, which carried over elsewhere.

Unfortunately, a driver of Kenseth’s stature also requires to be paid what he’s worth. Thusly, RPM nor FRM are not in a position to sign him, as neither has the sponsorship in place to cover the cost without crippling its day-to-day operations.

To fully maximize the possibilities that exist with Kenseth as your driver requires an owner to spend even if the sponsorship isn’t available. Similar to how Furniture Row Racing’s Barney Visser was willing to sign Kurt Busch in 2013 despite lacking a primary sponsor, because Visser believed what Busch could do for the single-car team would make it more viable over the long-term.

Visser’s approach proved correct. In his single season with the team, Busch elevated FRR into the playoffs for the first time, setting the table for Martin Truex Jr.’s championship run. There is little reason to think Kenseth couldn’t do the same if the opportunity presented itself.

What does it say about NASCAR’s new format that Kyle Busch may be eliminated in the second round? I thought the new format was supposed to prevent drivers who were great during the regular season from being eliminated from the playoffs so early?


Allowing drivers to carry over points into the postseason was designed to reward those who won and exhibited high-level consistency during the regular season. Never was stage racing and the increased points available to amass conceived to fully safeguard and prevent a top seed from being knocked out early.

In Busch’s case, he basically had mulligan where he could afford to have a single bad race within an early round and still be reasonably positioned to advance were he to finish well in the other two races. But Busch has had consecutive bad races, finishing 29th at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 27th at Talladega Superspeedway to fall seven points below the cut line and in danger of being eliminated following Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

The system is working exactly as devised. Regular season excellence brings some protection, but it doesn’t allow a team to completely fall apart in the playoffs and still transfer despite subpar performance.

Ultimately, if Busch fails to advance he will only have himself to blame. He had a mistake-filled afternoon at Charlotte, where he hit the wall three times, then followed by crashing out at Talladega in a race where he needed to see the checkered flag. Throw points away like that, you’re going to find yourself in scramble mode to avoid the playoff guillotine.

The good news, seven points is not an insurmountable deficit. He can overcome it by finishing well in the first and second stages and in the race overall. And considering Busch has five consecutive finishes of fifth or better at Kansas, the odds favor him finding a way to transfer into the semi-finals on Sunday.

I saw your tweet about the length of the Charlotte road course race next season and how it may go three-plus hours. Do you really think this will happen and doesn’t this go against the idea about shortening races, which most everyone thinks should happen?


For those who hadn’t seen it, CMS announced Wednesday morning its playoff race on the oval-road course hybrid next year will consist of 130 laps spanning 314 miles (500 kilometers). If this seems like an excessive distance for a NASCAR road course race, it’s because it absolutely is.

Cup Series road course races at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International are 219 and 220 miles, respectively, and both on average take under three hours to complete. Based on factors such as cautions, stages, tire falloff that lowers speeds over green-flag runs, the first-ever road course playoff race will be well over three hours -- and could even push four hours. An unacceptable duration amid a time when many races need to shortened, something NASCAR’s television partners have pushed for.

Although CMS declared the race as 314 miles, this is unlikely to be the actual length when the green flag waves next fall. Charlotte officials revealed the distance without NASCAR approval and before consulting with NBC Sports, which is broadcasting the Bank of America 500, sources confirmed to SB Nation.

Not surprisingly, upon the completion of a tire test on the oval circuit Wednesday afternoon, NASCAR released a statement that passive-aggressively refuted what CMS announced, further suggesting the eventual length will be shorter and not the marathon race as originally stated.